VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis expelled a German bishop from his diocese on Wednesday pending the outcome of a church inquiry into his 31 million-euro ($43-million) new residence complex.
The Vatican didn't say how long Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, would spend away from the diocese of Limburg but it refused calls to remove him permanently. It gave no information on where he would go or what he would do.
The Vatican said the bishop was leaving pending the outcome of a German church investigation into the expenditures and his role in the affair. Fellow bishops and lay Catholics in the diocese, however, expressed doubt that he would ever be able to return.
"This is a crisis of confidence that will be hard to overcome," said the dean of the cathedral chapter, Guenther Geis.
Limburg's vicar general, the Rev. Wolfgang Roesch, who had been due to start Jan. 1, will instead begin work immediately and will run the diocese during Tebartz-van Elst's absence, the Vatican said.
At the center of the controversy is the huge price tag for the construction of a new bishop's residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst has defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection.
But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry has been enormous. The perceived lack of financial transparency has also struck a chord since a church tax in Germany brings in billions a year to the German church.
Tebartz-van Elst's leadership style has also been criticized. In August and September, more than 4,000 people signed an open letter to the bishop criticizing what they considered his authoritarian style.
The head of the German bishops' conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, has been particularly blunt in his criticism of the expenditures and the credibility problem it was causing the church.
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